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ANC campaign for Presidency
by Amin George Forji
2007-01-09 13:25:56
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The African National Congress in South Africa, which is probably the biggest and, of course, the most famous party in the continent, is likely heeding what observers think will be the fieriest contest in its 95-year history that is the fight to head the party.

The party is set to choose a new leader to replace the incumbent president, Thabo Mbeki, whose mandate is due to expire in December this year. With its militancy standing over 70% of the general electorate, whoever wins the party’s presidency would eventually become sure of also winning the presidential race in two year’s time, when Mbeki’s present term ends.

ovi magazine - African National CongressBeing an election year, the fever for the presidency has begun heating up, with most of the party bigwigs expressly or implying their intentions to run, or allying themselves behind the potential front-runners. The latest to make such intentions clear is Tokyo Sexwale, a business tycoon, who has not been active in the ANC for nine years.

The news was broken by one of the country’s top tabloid, The Sunday Times, which described Sexwale as the party’s compromise candidate. The party is currently split between supporters of current president, Thabo Mbeki, and his deputy, Jacob Zuma. The story was then subsequently relayed by other local tabloids.

Sexwale was said by the paper to have already held high-level talks with Nelson Mandela, as well as key supporters of both the Mbeki and the Zuma camps, urging both sides to give him their backing as the party’s unique candidate to heal the bitter split, which is damaging the party’s reputation. The papers did not say whether there has yet been any consensus between the warring camps.

"Sexwale, who is projecting himself as a compromise candidate in the ANC's messy succession battle, has developed a strategy for his bid for the ANC presidency and the country's top job," The Sunday Times reported.

Before his conviction in 2005 on rape and corruption charges, the Party’s current Deputy President, Jacob Zuma was generally considered the strongest contender for the post, and the presidency too. Both Zuma and Sexwale, anti-apartheid activists were imprisoned together with Nelson Mandela at Robben Island, and released in 1990. Upon their release, both men, together with Nelson Mandela, helped secure the ANC victory in the 1994 general elections, which was in fact the country’s first democratic poll, since the end of Apartheid.

Zuma was elected Deputy Secretary General of the ANC, while Sexwale became the Premier of Gauteng Province. Four years later in 1998, Sexwale left politics and went into business, thriving with his R6-billion oil and diamond mining Mvelaphanda Holdings now said to be the third largest company in the country after De Beers and JFPI Corporation. Zuma, meanwhile, remained active in politics moving from height to height, until the 2005 rape and corruption scandal on him, which were both later thrown out of court.

Although Mbeki, under South African constitution, cannot contest a third term for the presidency, he is nevertheless eligible for the ANC presidency. It has long been speculated that he would rather prefer to stand than have Jacob Zuma, who commands a large following win the position.

Between June 1999 and June 2005, Zuma served as the country’s deputy president, but was relieved from that function by Mr. Mbeki on 14th June 2005, after being implicated in the so-called Schabir Shaik corruption trial. While sacking Mr. Zuma, Mr. Mbeki declared, "In the interest of the honourable Deputy President, the government, our young democratic system and our country, it would be best to release the honourable Jacob Zuma from his responsibilities as Deputy President of the republic and member of the cabinet."

When eventually both counts on Zuma were thrown out of court, the ANC’s national Executive Committee (NEC) unanimously voted to re-instate Zuma to his former post as Deputy President. Zuma and Mbeki have however remained at odds since the acquittal.

To many, this would have been the end of their political career. But in the case of Mr Zuma, who is a Zulu, his acquittal meant a resurgence of his political career. Still loved by many, he is widely speculated to win any election in the party whatever dimension it would take. The natives say he had been faithful throughout the struggle for equality in South Africa. His dissidents however say if he wins the presidency, it will subject the ANC to “moral” attacks.

One thing however remains certain: whether it’s Mbeki campaigning for a third term, his deputy Zuma, business tycoon, Sexwale or some other ANC bigwig, the one thing that is already certain is that the road to the top job would be nothing else than a clash of the titans.

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